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Posts from February, 2017


Getting a Clean Start: Managing Windows Startup Programs

Thursday, February 23rd, 2017

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It’s quite common that, over time, Windows systems accumulate a laundry list of programs that load when a user signs in.

While generally benign, most of these “startup” programs are unlikely to actually benefit the user—so the computer ends up doing a whole lot of work for no reason.

Fortunately, it’s very easy for someone with a little computer experience to control which programs launch at startup. Read on to find out more about the what, why, and how.

Benefits of Trimming Startup Programs

The primary benefit of trimming the startup program list is a substantially faster login process. If your employees don’t have to wait for useless programs to launch, they can access a fully-loaded desktop several minutes faster. Moreover, the system will have more available memory to run programs that are actually being used. This means the computer will be less likely to fall back on the slower-performing hard drive to operate programs, eliminating a major cause of lag.

Cutting down on startup programs also removes bloatware and other unnecessary programs the computer manufacturer installed on the device. These often extend the boot time, waste available memory, and cause errors—so you’re much better off without them. Employees who don’t reboot as often as they should will be more easily encouraged and motivated to do so if the process doesn’t drag on and on.

Accessing and Using the Built-In Startup Manager

Starting with Windows 8, Microsoft moved the Startup Manager to the Task Manager window, which can be accessed by pressing “Ctrl+Shift+Esc” and clicking the “Startup” tab. The Manager can be found on older systems by pressing “Windows Key+R,” entering “msconfig,” clicking “OK,” and selecting the “Startup” tab.

In the Windows 8 and later Managers, simply select the programs you wish to enable or disable and click the “Enable/Disable” toggle button. Enable or disable programs by checking or unchecking the box next to the desired programs in older versions of the Startup Manager, and press “OK” to finalize the changes.

At this point it’s best practice to restart the machine and ensure the system is in working order before moving on. If something vital is missing, access the Startup Manager again and turn it back on.

What to Disable, What to Keep

Generally speaking, the only programs that need to remain in the system startup are security-related: that is, anti-virus, firewall, and remote access applications. Most of the programs featured in the Startup Manager should have familiar names—so if a program doesn’t immediately strike you as essential, it can probably be disabled. PCWorld recommends researching unknown programs before disabling them.

If you’re unsure of which programs can be disabled, free applications like “Should I Remove It” can help guide you. MakeUseOf.com has a handy list of 10 common startup programs that can be safely disabled for (sometimes significant) performance improvements.

If your business is looking to increase productivity by running more efficient technical infrastructure, the IT Managed Services experts at MPA Networks can help. Contact us today for more information.

Digital Sticky Notes: A Time-Saver for Your Entire Team

Wednesday, February 15th, 2017

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It’s a familiar sighting in the workplace: the employee with half a dozen sticky notes attached to their computer monitor. While not the most confidential or elegant solution, these employees are on to something.

Fortunately, technology has stepped in to embrace this practice and increase productivity through digital sticky notes. Teaching your staff how to use this feature helps keep your office not only more organized, but also more secure.

Boosting Productivity and Security

Like their physical counterparts, digital sticky notes have countless helpful applications: They can serve as reminders, cheat sheets, and to-do lists, to name a few.

Employees can create and destroy as many digital sticky notes as needed without wasting any paper. And digital sticky notes actually work better than making notes in a Word or Google doc, because they are continually accessible/viewable when switching between tasks.

Digital sticky notes have the following advantages over physical versions:

  • Content on the notes can be rearranged, edited, and erased at will. Reworking the list does not mean drafting a new note.
  • They serve as excellent interactive to-do listshelping employees stay organized.
  • No physical waste is created when the sticky note is no longer being used.
  • They are more secure because they’re not visible when the screen is off, the user logged out, or the system locked.
  • They come with theoretically unlimited space. Digital sticky notes allow for scrolling when more space is needed.
  • They offer an easy place to store login credentials that all employees in the workplace can access.
  • They provide a simpler platform to manage important, frequently used links than an ever-expanding bookmark list in a web browser.
  • Employees can use simple copy-and-paste commands between programs to add to the sticky note.
  • The notes facilitate email communication between devices and people.
  • They won’t fall or get knocked off the screen.

Sticky Notes with a PC

Windows calls its digital notation program “Sticky Notes.” It behaves similarly to program windows and can be accessed via the Start Menu. Searching for “Sticky Notes” in the search bar may locate the program faster.

Accessing the application will expose all existing notes; if there are none, it will create one. Users can drag and expand these digital notes to any size they deem appropriate. Click the “+” icon on an existing note to make additional notes, and click the “X” icon to delete unwanted notes. Notes can also be color-coded via the “right-click” menu. Power-users may like the available keyboard shortcuts as well.

Sticky Notes with a Mac

Macs also support a built-in digital sticky note solution called “Stickies,” which can be accessed via the “Applications” folder. Users can drag and drop the Stickies to any desired locations and resize the windows by clicking and dragging the corner icons. Employees can customize individual note colors through the “Color” menu and can add shortcuts to media files by dragging and dropping icons over notes as well.

Mac OS even features a handy keyboard shortcut to create a sticky note from highlighted text: “Command + Up Shift + Y.”

Both of these applications are free and included with the computer your employees are already using. Some employees may find digital sticky notes an incredibly valuable tool—but, if nothing else, they will help your team create a cleaner, more secure workplace. If your business is looking to boost its productivity through stronger IT practices, contact the experts at MPA Networks today.

Breathing New Life into Middle-Aged Computers

Wednesday, February 8th, 2017

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Your employees’ computers may not be up to speed anymore after two or three years of use, but in many cases your staff can upgrade or tune up these devices to keep pace with work demands. Upgrades can often be purchased and installed for under $100 a system, offering an inexpensive way to extend the life of a desktop or laptop computer.

Talk with your IT staff or your IT managed services partner to learn more about your options for addressing the classic employee complaint “My computer is too slow.”

Upgrade to Solid State Drives for Faster Loading

Outside of cost-per-gigabyte storage rates, Solid State Drives (SDDs) are a comprehensive upgrade to traditional hard disk drives. If your employees are complaining about long load times when opening programs or accessing files, an SSD upgrade can make a world of a difference. According to the manufacturer Crucial, SSDs are more durable, faster, lighter, and more energy-efficient than their disk-based predecessors.

A few years back, the opportunity cost may have been prohibitive, especially when it comes to your entire staff. But now that prices have dramatically dropped, going SSD makes financial sense.

RAM Upgrade

While CPU upgrades are usually impractical, a computer’s other main performance component often represents a simple, far-reaching upgrade option: RAM. The RAM, or the system’s main memory, handles all the active applications on the system; when it runs out, the computer has to fall back on the far slower HDD/SDD storage. However, the law of diminishing returns applies to this upgrade, and adding more memory than the computer utilizes at a maximum won’t improve performance. Your business may be able to upgrade a few computers’ RAM for free by pulling compatible modules from decommissioned, broken, or unused machines.

Newer Laptops = Fewer Upgrade-Ready Parts

Desktop computers are still the kings of upgrade-ability, but their portable counterparts can’t say the same. The industry is trending toward integrating parts together instead of in a modular configuration, so the RAM and storage may not be upgradeable on some devices. For example, as of 2015, Apple started using soldered RAM and proprietary SDDs, making upgrade-ability and repairs extremely difficult (if not impossible).

Backup and Reinstall Windows/Other Software

This tip applies specifically to Windows devices that are approaching the middle of their lifespan: Back up all important data, nuke the main hard drive, reinstall Windows, and restore all useful applications. Because of the way Windows operating systems work, a part of the code called the “registry” is changed over time with newly installed/updated applications, leading to slower performance. While newer iterations of Windows aren’t affected as badly by this problem, it still exists—and the best way to fix it is to reinstall Windows.

If you’re looking for ways to ensure employee devices keep up with workload demands, the IT experts at MPA Networks are ready to help. Contact us today to get started.

Using Snap and Split-Screen Modes for Increased Productivity

Wednesday, February 1st, 2017

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Multi-tasking wizards have a secret: Modern operating systems offer a handy technique for managing multiple windows while maximizing available screen space, significantly increasing productivity. Depending on the OS, this feature may be referred to as “snapping” or “split-screen mode.” The concept, however, remains the same: Users can quickly dock windows on both sides of their screen using simple shortcuts.

Are your employees wasting valuable seconds shuffling back and forth between windows or screens?

This window management trick can make day-to-day work smoother and more efficient.

Modern Display Shifts Make It Possible

Two major changes in our expectations of screen displays created an environment where window docking thrives. The first is a general push to make both application and web content display effectively in both landscape and portrait mode. The second is the widespread adoption of 16:9 monitors in the desktop and laptop world. This combination of factors means that users today can take a single-landscape monitor and comfortably display two applications in landscape mode at once (though it’s worth noting that this method works better on monitors with an aspect ratio wider than 16:9).

Using Windows Snap

Windows 7 first popularized this technique via the “Aero Snap” feature and now uses a retooled version for Windows 10 called “Snap Assist.” The Snap feature is easy to use via a mouse and keyboard shortcut. Mouse users can drag the window against the side of the screen to make the content automatically extend full-vertical and half-horizontal. Windows 10 expands this functionality by displaying a selection of windows to fill the other side of the screen.

The following keyboard shortcuts can then be used based on preference:

  • Ctrl+Up Arrow: Shrink to quarter-screen or expand to full-screen
  • Ctrl+Down Arrow: Un-dock or minimize window
  • Ctrl+Left Arrow: Dock window on the left-side
  • Ctrl+Right Arrow: Dock window on the right-side

Repeatedly pressing either “Ctrl+Right Arrow” or “Ctrl+Left Arrow” lets the user alternate which half-screen segment of their monitor the window occupies, which is extra-handy when using more than one screen.

Split-Screen in Mac OS

Mac OS added this feature in the El Capitan update. To activate this feature on supported apps, click and hold down the green app window corner button, then drag the window to the desired half of the screen. The operating system will display a selection of compatible apps in the free side of the screen; simply click on one to expand it to occupy the available side.

Snapping in Chrome OS

Chrome OS features a similar window management method. Dragging windows to the side of the screen will activate a gray outline that represents where the window will expand in half, quarter, third, or two-thirds orientation. Pressing either “Alt+[“ or “Alt+]” activates left-side and right-side docking respectively.

These tips are even more helpful for employees using dual- or multi-monitor configurations. If your business is looking to increase productivity through IT managed services and IT consulting, contact the experts at MPA Networks today.